”]Jamaica’s Governor General, Sir Kenneth Hall has resigned as the country’s head of state for health reasons after three years in the office and Prime Minister Bruce Golding has almost immediately announced Hall’s successor as Dr Patrick Allen, an educator and Seventh Day Adventist minister and administrator.
Critics have already questioned Allen’s bona fides for the job as the titular head of state who embodies the nation above the political fray. That he is a Saturday Sabbath keeper who maintains the Mosaic diet laws that excludes pork are being raised as obstacles to the performance of his duties on state occasions that may require work on his day or worship.
These considerations have not in the past affected the ceremonial duties of governors general since Sir Clifford Campbell succeeded Sir Kenneth Blackburne as the first native Jamaican head of state in 1962. It is a non-issue whether his Christian background will cause a rift in a country whose national anthem begins “Eternal Father, bless our land…,” as all the office holders since Sir Clifford have been Christians who did their jobs as the representative of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, according to the law.
They performed ceremonial duties, the most important being the appointment of the prime minister and leader of the opposition, prorogation of parliament and calling of general elections on the advice of the prime minister and signing acts of parliament into law. Only once, when the 1972-80 People’s National Party (PNP) administration of Michael Manley was criticised by its appointee Florizel Glasspole, a former education minister in Manley’s government, was there a querying of the behaviour of an office holder. Glasspole had cautioned against the extreme left wing activities of his former colleagues.
Perhaps more important than whether Allen will attempt to convert all Jamaica to Christendom or his Adventist sect, is the real role of the office in the constitution and in nation building – matters that concern all former British colonies in the Caribbean and even in Canada and Australia where voices have been raised to distance the independent states from the British monarchy, its “heirs and successors”.
A pertinent scenario was in October 1983 when Sir Paul Scoon emerged from obscurity to be enrobed with the responsibility of “inviting” President Ronald Reagan’s forces to rescue Grenada from the People’s Revolutionary Government which had murdered Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and overthrown his government that had itself staged a bloodless coup d’etat against the elected government of Sir Eric Gairy.
There is probably still debate in legal circles whether Sir Paul, whose office in the revolutionary government was questionable, was a legitimate actor; and many remain convinced that the invitation floated from Dominica’s then Prime Minister, Eugenia Charles – Dominica, ironically, being along with Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana the only former colonies to declare republican status and replace the Queen as head of state.
From Bridgetown to Kingston, there has been talk of constitutional reform to fully repatriate the centre of power to the countries by discarding the monarch for republican status. Jamaica is particularly wedded to Britain with even so-called progressive lawyers objecting to the mere notion of eschewing the Privy Council for the native Caribbean Court of Justice, contending that the region’s judiciary is somehow not able: Jamaica the land well known for producing Marcus Garvey the black internationalist and the Rastafari movement one of whose main spokesmen was freedom fighting artist, Bob marley.
With more than 1,500 murders a year for the past five years in a population of 2.6 million, with chronic unemployment and a downward spiralling economy for years before the global financial crisis, the country has displayed an incapacity to act that probably reflects the lack of self confidence despite the braggadocio surrounding the achievement of its athletes and musicians above the norm for the country as a whole. Not surprisingly the successes are in areas where hardship forces reaction.
Maybe we, Jamaica and the Caribbean, should do away with this GG foolishness. What is this pastor going to do to enable progress? And if the Queen is the titular head of the Church of England, how does she have representing her, a cleric who believes Protestantism is a spawn of the devil?
So will a new governor general of whatever denominational stripe cause Jamaica to turn around? We don’t think so. Not all the think-tanks in the world, with action teams galore can undo the damage done to the people. They are so messed up. After living through so much gore, it has become them. Call us nihilist, but the whole system needs to be taken apart, with fresh faces and new blood to rebuild – no, strike that, build the nation. If there is no effort made to make those responsible answer for their criminal acts, then all we are doing is patching potholes.
Photo caption: Governor General Sir Kenneth Hall presents the Order of Distinction to Allen, right, in 2006 for his contribution to the nation. [photo: courtesy Jamaica Observer]